A Black woman sits in nature by Schaun Champion

The Climate Movement Has Always Been Black


photograph by schaun champion

Black History Month is here. A month is not nearly enough time to celebrate Black people and their leadership in the climate space, but we love an excuse to celebrate everything Black at The Frontline.

It’s February, so you know what time it is. All the fake-woke corporations and companies are launching their campaigns to uplift Black people one month out of the year. At The Frontline, we center Black leadership and voices all year long; we don’t need Black History Month to do that. That being said, we’ll never turn down an opportunity to celebrate everything Black.


Welcome to The Frontline, where we’re kicking off Black History Month with some facts. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate editor of Atmos. Let’s start off this month by laying out what’s what. The reality is that Black people in the U.S. and around the world care tremendously about our ecological crises despite white environmentalist stereotypes. 







In the U.S., Black people have been at the forefront of environmental advocacy. Their work around civil rights and pollution wasn’t always viewed as environmental stewardship, but it was


These days, we have Black voters in Georgia to thank for a Democratic-controlled Senate that finally offers the U.S. a fighting chance at passing comprehensive climate legislation. If we step out for a bird’s eye view, Black people’s diets and energy habits, on average, contribute less greenhouse gases and air pollution than white people in the U.S. Meanwhile, they’re disproportionately at risk from both of these dangers.


Ain’t that some shit?


A poll released in March 2020 by the Environmental Defense Fund found that a majority of Black Americans are already feeling the impacts of climate change. I’m talking about severe heat and extreme weather. And 57 percent believe the situation is worsening. On the bright side, 77 percent of the Black people surveyed support a clean energy transition. This is a contingent of people who don’t have the luxury to deny climate science. They see the realities in person.


We’re finally witnessing a union between racial justice and traditional environmental groups—and an understanding that there’s some serious value in learning from Black communities. Yes, they are on course to face some of the gravest harms from climate change. (Remember Hurricane Katrina?) Beyond that expected devastation, however, is essential knowledge and an awareness of what Black communities will need to weather the next storm. There are countless leaders who are paving the way for Black leadership in the climate space and creating space for even more leaders to come up.


I’m thinking of Mustafa Santiago Ali. Or Tamara Toles O’Laughlin. How about the Green New Deal champion Rhiana Gunn-Wright? And newly elected Rep. Cori Bush. There are more: Sean Watkins, a climate solutions storyteller; climate writer Mary Annaïse Heglar; Brentin Mock, whose writing inspired me to jump on this beat; or Grist’s Andrew Simon, whose mentorship helped make my career possible.


So many Black creatives, writers, scientists, thought leaders, and advocates are making a carbon-free future possible through their everyday work. And let me tell you: It’s not easy working in the climate space. It’s even harder to face a reality that’s willing to sacrifice you and your peoples along the way. 


This month, I’ll be making some space for people I admire in this realm, inviting Black writers and readers to take over The Frontline for a day. Be sure to keep your eye out. I’ll still be covering daily news and events, but every week—starting next week—will include original writing from someone. 


Happy Black History Month.

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